Tag Archives: #AynRand

Bad economics, bad politics – Britain’s policy towards Syrian refugees

There has been an ongoing public debate in Britain about what the country’s policy should be towards the refugees arriving in Europe from Syria and other war torn countries. The consensus is that our Prime Minister’s response has been determined by the hatred expressed for refugees in the popular media and fear of losing votes to the anti immigration party (UKIP). However there is another compelling reason as to why our Prime Minister is so opposed to Britain taking its fair share of the immigrant population now arriving in Europe and that is bad economics. This government has claimed the mantle of fiscal probity and as such is committed to keeping public spending to minimal levels. If the government admitted large numbers of refugees to the country it would be committed to increasing it’s spending. Much of that increase would go to local authorities (to house the refugees) just at a time when the government is committed to reducing their budgets. It is fear of breaking its fiscal rules that prevents it from admitting these refugees.

The government has as a consequence made a pig’s ear of its policy and produced a immigration policy that will please no one. It has made a commitment to admit 20,000 refugees over five years or 4000 a year on average. This will be financed from the foreign aid budget, money that would otherwise be spent in developing countries will instead be used to finance the accommodation needs a modest number of refugees for one year. After that the councils will have to fund from their much reduced budget all the extra services that these new arrivals will require.

What the government fails to understand is that economics is unsuited to providing policy goals at what can be called the ‘summum bonum’ policy level. Economics is a servant subject a subject that when used correctly determines the feasibility of government policy proposals, it cannot provide the grand objectives that determine all policy decisions. The object of economic policy making is to set intermediate goals whose attainment will make possible the attainment of the greater goals of universal policy making. This government has reversed this process, the grand overall objective is to attain a budget surplus, whereas good economics would demonstrate how to or whether an open door policy to refugees is economically feasible. If this government is trying to disguise its greater policy goal of keeping Britain a predominantly white non-muslim country through rejecting these immigrants, this would count as a greater policy goal.

What I am trying to state is that economics is a terrible subject for providing the greater goals that should be at the heart of any government policy making, that is the role of ethics or political philosophy and economics should not intrude areas into which it is unfitted. Formerly the conservative party was a practitioner of “One Nation Toryism”, a philosophy that stated while the aristocracy, financial and industrial elites were best fitted and entitled to rule, they owed an obligation of care to the lower orders of society. This is why the Conservative party of the 1950’s was able to embrace the National Heath Service and full employment. Now the vision of the Conservative party has shrunk to accommodate the goals and principals of Neo-Liberal economics, which can offer nothing more than series of lower order objectives. The philosophy of Ayn Rand dominates this government, a government that like her sees the lower orders of society as nothing more than a drain on the nation’s resources. While the only people it see’s as demanding of respect are the giants of business and finance. These people it rewards with generous tax allowances and government grants. Hume, Oakshott and all the great conservative philosophers of the past would despair of a government that only had good housekeeping as the only summum bonus of its policy making. Minimal government of the sort practised by this government makes for ineffective and bad government.

The folly of an economics first policy is demonstrated by the government’s policy towards Syria. It is now proposing armed intervention to end the current conflict so as to halt the flow of refugees from that country, yet its policy of budget cuts have denied it the means to make any effective intervention. The cuts have reduced the fighter bomb force to a total of six planes and its cuts to the army budget have made it impossible for the army to make any effective contribution to any overseas conflict through lack of resources. Realism demands that the policy becomes not one of intervention but one of appealing to other countries to fight the battle on Britain’s behalf, not the most effective of policies.

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Nietzsche’s nightmare – the rise of the untermensch, a world ruled by mediocrity

History has been unkind to Nietzsche as his writings have been seen as one of the giving a philosophical underpinning to the emerging Nazi movement of the 1930’s. Principally because his sister pillaged his notes to produce ‘The Will to Power’, which appeared to endorse the ideology of National Socialism. Certainly Nietzsche appeared to give some credence to this reading of his work. In one of his last books he refers to the superiority of the ‘blond beast’ of Germany, however this was written at a time of his increasing mental breakdown and cannot be taken as characteristic of his thought.  Even then the phrase ‘blond beast’ cannot be taken as an implicit endorsement of German nationalism. Readers of Nietzsche have forgotten that he was primarily an aesthete and it is in that context that his writings should be understood.  

Throughout the twentieth century there have been constant reinterpretations of the Nietzsche’s philosophy. While his sister was the first there have been countless others. One writer that adopts the Nietzschean theme is Ayn Rand in her text ‘Atlas Shrugged’. A novel that through its endorsement of the now dominant philosophy of Neo-Liberal economics has become one of the books that all aspiring politicians claim to have read. This novel demonstrates a worship of the rich and powerful and  a contempt for the poor. However Ayn Rand’s failure as with all the others, was to misunderstand Nietzsche’s will to power, it was not about power. Nietzsche himself expressed doubts later about the naming of this concept. Personally I think it would have been better phrased as the will to aspire, that is the drive to fulfil human potential. 

  

When Nietzsche introduced the concept übermensch (super or over man) he was not so much thinking of übermensch as the superman as a man of extreme  physical strength but the man of superior intellect and sensitivity. His first three candidates for the role of übermensch were the artist, philosopher and Saint. Saint Francis would have been one of an übermensch as Nietzsche originally intended the term to be used. He had the vision to seen the failings of Italian society of the 13th century, he rejected the role of chivalrous knight, which was seen as the highest ideal that could be aspired amongst the rich merchant class of Assisi. He saw not knightly chivalrous’ warfare but murderous warfare between city states. St. Francis had the qualities to make him an übermensch; he had superiority and uniqueness of intellect allied and the courage to go against the norms and conventions of his age. The distancing of time negates the radicalism of St. Francis. His preaching was seen by later Pope’s as a threat to the social order. After his death the Pope had two Franciscan friars burnt, because they had condemned too forcibly the wrong doings of the rich and the powerful. 

Nietzsche later dropped the Saint from his typology  of supermen. 

Twentieth and twenty first century writers tend ignore the influence of the thinking of Classical Greek thinkers on Nietzsche. One such Greek was the philosopher Aristotle, who wondered how can you classify ever changing beings such as man. It was obviously wrong to identify man only through his physical characteristics, as these characteristics kept changing. What was it that identified the child and the man as being the same creature? Aristotle’s answer was that it was ‘Being’, that is what they had the potential to become. The child would evolve into the intelligent thinking being that was the mature man. Nietzsche’s insight was that the potential of each man or woman was different, not all,  in fact only a tiny minority were capable of achieving the full human  potential. He despised the common herd of humanity that lacked the potential to achieve this highest level of being. What he saw was a society in which the rules were written to benefit the average of humanity. The poor specimens that made up the mass of humanity needed rules and regulation, as their independent thinking tended on their towards barbarism and animal like behaviours. Behaviours that needed controlling for the social good. Unfortunately for the fate of humanity these rules and regulations constrained the übermensch to such an extent that they were denied the opportunity to fulfil their potential. It is impossible to calculate the loss of society of this unfulfilled potential. How many Michelangelo’s  had been confined to a life of mediocrity because of the oppressive nature of a society of mediocrities?

Nietzsche hated democracy because it enshrined the rule of the mediocre. Some of his fiercest criticisms were directed at the British, as he saw the triumph of the business orientated bourgeois as the triumph of mediocrity. He wanted a society in which the übermensch would thrive, as what could be a better society than one in which the best of humanity thrive, as opposed to one in which the worst prosper. It was his despair that caused him to make the more extreme statements that he made towards the end of his life, when he was nearing mental and emotional breakdown. He  despaired that the rise of industrial civilisation was embedding in society the rule of the mediocre, that is the industrial bourgeoise. 

German nationalism he despised as there could not be a superior people, only a society in which the superior were allowed to thrive. Übermensch could only be individuals not nations. 

Nietzsche’s left many notes, that is notes made for book written and for those yet to be written. It from these notes that Elizabeth Forster Nietzsche could draft a philosophy of German nationalism. A philosophy of power which misused Nietzsche’s concept the will to power. What she changed it into was something akin to Chamberlain’s social Darwinism, a philosophy of competing racial types. A competition in which the Germanic Aryan racial type was best fitted to win. Other philosophies of power  developed in that century, one of which was that of Ayn Rand. A philosophy of the power of wealth, a philosophy in which wealth became the criterion of human worth, or as she described it a philosophy of rational selfishness. This particular one has become extremely influential in the contemporary world. 

This philosophy is clearly explained in her novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’. This  novel starts in a dystopian society of the future, a society in which business enterprise is oppressed through a series of restrictions imposed on it by a dictatorial government. Restrictions that eventually provoked a businessman’s strike. The billionaire owners of business gradually disappear and without them at the helm of their businesses, these businesses begin to fail. The rich have disappeared, so as to avoid the depredations of the  ‘looters’, these looters are the government and labour unions which extort wealth from the non looters (the rich) through the threat of force. Wealth which is squandered on the undeserving poor. The productive entrepreneurs have had enough and can no longer tolerate the leeching of their wealth by the non productive looters and mooches.  Without the beneficent rich directing their companies chaos results and thousands of the poor die, because they lack the ability to provide for themselves. The death of thousands of these non productive leaches, she sees as a great benefit to human society, as they made no contribution to the well being of society. Eventually these self secluded billionaires return and restore prosperity and freedom to society. Freedom for Rand was the removal of restrictions on the rich powerful wealth creators, restrictions such as labour protection laws, that prevented them introducing the most cost efficient methods of production. A society that would cease its persecution of the rich wealth creators. In Rand’s utopia all are free to use their talents to maximise their individual wealth, nobody had the right to expect the society to support them. If there were poor hungry people it was their own fault, either through lack of effort or ability. There was no reason why the members of society should show any concern about the poor, as in this society all had an equal opportunity to become rich, if some ignored that opportunity it was their fault.

Rand did not create the callous Neo-Liberal society of today, but her philosophy of power is one of the more substantial foundations on which it stands. It would be difficult to argue that she was more influential that Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, but her novels through simplifying the tenets of Neo-Liberalism contributed through popularising this philosophy. Her novels give the best explanation of the thinking behind Neo-Liberal thinking, in which people are valued for their worth as wealth creators. Those such as the poor who make meagre contributions to wealth creating are deserving of society’s contempt.

However the people who she elevates to the status of super men, the billionaires are the mediocre men who Nietzsche despises. They are to borrow Marcuse’s phrase the ultimate ‘one dimensional men’. A  simple historical comparison will demonstrate this. Cosimo de Medici, the man who dominated Florence in the late 14th century, was a wealthy banker which would have qualified him as one of  Ayn Rand’s financial supermen. Yet he was more than just that, he was a patron of the arts and artists he was responsible for funding the completion the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore (the “Duomo”, Florence’s cathedral). He had the foresight and wisdom to support the bankrupt architect Brunelleschi in completing this work. He was the patron of great artists such as Fra Angelico and Donatello and of perhaps patron of the greatest philosopher of his time, Ficino. Cosimo committed a great part of his wealth to public works, the magnificence of contemporary Florence is in part due to him. This contrasts with the selfish rationalists of Rand. These people avoid try to making any contribution to the society in which they live. Britain may be host to record numbers of the super rich, but the majority avoid paying tax. While their lack of tax payments show their unwillingness to contribute to the well being of society, they will also leave nothing behind in the form of public works. Any visitor can tour Florence today and marvel at its architectural splendours, whereas future visitors to London will see little to admire in in various shopping malls and office blocks of today.  If there was a negative  prize for the worse architecture in the world, London would regularly win the prize. The mediocrity of the new ruling class of politicians, financiers etc, is reflected in the mediocre buildings they erect. In biblical terms are a little more than the barbarous temples to mammon, in which worship and wonder are replaced by the act of buying and selling.

 

Cosimo de Medici, Portrait by Jacopo Pontormo; the laurel branch (il Broncone) was a symbol used also by his heirs [4]

The reason for my selecting Cosimo de Medici is that he is typical of the merchant princes of Renaissance Italy. These men used a large part of their wealth to sponsor public works on their cities, they vied with each other to get the best artists to create the greatest works of art of their cities. Cosimo de Medici is perhaps the type of capitalist that could be classed as one of the übermensch.  Today the super rich celebrate their philistinism. One suspects that Renaissance Italy was the one country that was most hospitable to the übermensch, while in contrast contemporary Britain is one of the least hospitable. 

This inhospitable climate can be demonstrated in the attack on the humanities in the universities. Mediocre men, be they politicians, university vice chancellors or businessmen can only see value in education if it  contributes directly to increasing the national income. When applying (unsuccessfully) to do a theology PhD, I was asked to write how my research would benefit society. Since I proposed to research the esoteric language that was used to speak of God, the I could not. The new type of university Vice Chancellors are all committed to make universities more productive in the business sense and of more direct benefit to the economy. These new university managers see no place for a liberal education as it does not translate in cost effective learning. Why study English literature, when the more cost beneficial course would be to study English as business communication?  Today those that want to study English or a modern language are favoured if it’s linked to business studies. Similarly the old tradition of disinterested research is being discarded in favour of that research that can best be demonstrated to show an economic benefit.  The cull of those cost ineffective departments has speeded up with the new coalition government of millionaires. A wrecking ball has been used on British universities in the expectation that from out of the rubble a profitable business enterprise is to be built. 

In the 1930’s great European philosophers came to teach in British universities, philosophers such as Isiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Ernst Gellner and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Either because they were freeing a regime that threatened their liberty and/or British universities with their tradition of disinterested research were congenial places to study.  Now such philosophers would merely use Britain as a transit point on their way to the more welcoming universities of the USA. 

Why I criticise Ayn Rand is not because she helped make Neo-Liberalism possible,  but because her doctrine of rational selfishness elevated selfishness into a virtue. The tax dodging businessman is no longer an immoral individual avoiding his social obligations, he is instead a moral non looter. They are acting morally in that they don’t want to see their hard earned income frittered away on poor ne’er do wells.  By elevating a particular kind of narrow mindedness (one that sees wealth accumulation as the only good), she has given sanction to the rule of mediocrity. A Cosimo de Medici would be regarded with horror by his billionaire contemporaries of today, all they would see is a billionaire frittering away a large part of his wealth on goods that produced no cash return. Perhaps it is in art that the clearest example is shown of the rule of mediocrity, Renaissance Florence produced  Michelangelo’s David, while contemporary Britain has produced Tracey Emin’s unmade bed.  

Rather  than initiating a new era of freedom as its proponents expected, the free market revolution has led to the rise of the new mediocrity, the rule of the untermensch (under man). Untermensch not as used by the Nazi’s to denote subhuman’s but men of dullness of mind, men self satisfied lacking any greater vision. Men and women with a preference for things as they were, wanting a return to an imaginary world of social peace, one unthreatened by change.  It is these men and women that dominate Britain, a Britain where thinking the same as the right people is the most admired trait. As demonstrated in Parliament where all the senior ‘responsible’ leaders all share the same view of Britain. They can see no alternative to austerity, anybody that suggests otherwise is subject to abuse, as witnessed by the demonising of Syriza. Syriza with its threats to end austerity in Greece is a threat to the agreed political consensus, where the fear is not the Syriza will fail, but that it will succeed. Therefore by continuing to insist on the inhumane policies that have impoverished Greece, they make it unlikely to happen. These scared people exclude from power the übermensch as they would threaten their position through change. Wherever you look in Britain the upper layer  of any institution, whether it be in parliament, finance or the universities, they are dominated by the untermensch. Mediocrities  of unbearable dullness who work collectively to ensure that the exciting, the new and the challenging ideas and people remain marginalised. Hayek thought that the social democracies of the 1950’s were drifting into a new serfdom, what he did not foresee was that his alternative society would be one by a ruled by a new class, the untermensch, the ultimate of one dimensional men. 

Notes 

Friedrich Hayek – the author of ‘The Road to Serfdom’ – one of the leasing advocates of what is termed Neo-Liberalism

Milton Friedman – the leading proponent of Chicago school  of Free Market Economics

Neo-Liberalism the latest of a long line of pseudo philosophies that plague mankind

Isaiah Berlin once remarked that there could be no such thing as a right wing philosophy. This at first puzzled me as the philosophers I studied were generally to the politically right of centre. What I then realised was that although these philosophers were of the political right their philosophies were not. Their philosophies were too enlightened to be confined within the bounds of conventional right wing thinking. A truly right wing philosophy would be founded on the principles of personal aggrandisement, the abuse and exploitation of fellow men (a contempt for the majority of mankind), the extolling of social inequality and social privilege. To express it more simply there cannot be a philosophy of nastiness; it is contrary to the understanding of the that the Greeks gave to this word, which that it is the love of wisdom. Praising greed or inequality cannot be the basis of any philosophy as it is a paean to unpleasant form of self interest.

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Having introduced the term pseudo philosophy I need to explain what I mean by the term. A pseudo philosophy is a one that serves to justify the self interest of a particular group. This self interest is always described in terms of a higher idealism, always a theft of universally admired ideals, but ideals that were redrafted to serve a particular narrow self interest. The medieval knight was at his worst was a killer, a rapacious looter and rapist yet this brutality could be justified by chivalry. This knight was a Christian knight, who spent the night before knighthood in prayer at a chapel. A knight who promised to use his strength to protect the poor and weak, treat women with courtesy etc. Somehow those killed by the knights did not fit into any of the protected categories, they were non people excluded by the code for a variety of reasons, for example when the Christian knights stormed Constantinople, the killing of Christian priests and monks was justified as they were heretics.

Pseudo philosophies unlike philosophy have the intention of stopping the advance of human knowledge, they want to stop the clock on change. They want to preserve the contemporary society in aspic or in the most extreme cases regress to a less enlightened age. The militants of Isis in Iraq practise the pseudo philosophy of violence, their rise to power is justified by the need to purge society of non Islamic elements. The barbarity of their regime can only be justified if they remove and destroy the enlightened elements of modern Islam society, as their existence is a constant and compelling criticism of their regime and a reminder that there is an alternative. Barbarity and the lust for power cannot tolerate learning whether it be culture or education as it is in opposition to their barbaric ethos. An ethos best expressed in the words mistakenly attributed to Goebbels, ‘when I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver’.

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What these pseudo philosophies have in common is a disregard for majority of humanity, who they class as inferior beings, full membership of humanity is limited to elite groups, the medieval knight or the contemporary billionaire. Possibly the cruelest of pseudo philosophies is National Socialism which classified whole groups of people as sub human, such as the Jews, the Roma, homosexuals, the disabled and proceeded to exterminate them. Contemporary pseudo philosophies such as Neo-Liberalism embody this same inhumanity. Ayn Rand a leading prophet of this philosophy also demonstrates a contempt for the masses of humanity. In her novels mankind is divided into two groups the ‘producers’ and ‘looters’, with corresponding physical characteristics. Her producers are square jawed of an angular physique, her looters are weak chinned and have flabby physiques. A caricature of humankind that could almost have been borrowed from the Nazis, with their comparisons of the magnificent physique of the Aryans with the grotesque bodies of the Jews. One critic said that there was the whiff of the gas chambers in her novels

Rand as with all pseudo philosophers is able to dress up her ideas with a moral grandeur suggestive of utilitarian philosophers Jeremy Bentham and J.S.Mill.

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged[11]

Unfortunately such grandeur can be deconstructed into the belief that greed is the motor that drives the world. Evil gets redefined as the attempt by the ‘looters’ to deny the ‘producers’ through legislation and its evil begetter over mighty government to rein in and control the wealth producers and creators. Billionaires are her heroes the poor are ‘lice’ and ‘maggots’. Unsurprisingly Ayn Rand is popular with the right, particularly the Republican Right in America. She seems to have been almost as influential as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman in recasting the USA and the UK in the Neo-Liberal mould.

Since the philosophy of Rand, the economics of Hayek and Friedman gives a moral camouflage to the activities of the predatory financier class, it is not surprising that Neo-Liberalism has become the moral philosophy of this class. They by using their financial clout have manipulated the political classes into accepting Neo-Liberalism as the philosophy of the political class. In the UK politicians as in the USA have become totally subservient to the ‘producers’, government now is principally run to facilitate the interests of the producers. Public service (big government) has been diminished through the wholesale privatisation of public services. In their latest act of obeisance they are about the agree the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Programme (TTIP) which will enshrine in legislation the dominance of producers over the political class. If in the future any government has the temerity to force the big corporations to adopt environmental or labour protection policies which they claim could reduce their profitability, they can reclaim those lost profits from the government. Usually when a political class legislates itself into irrelevance it is under the threat of violence as in Nazi Germany, the signing of the TTIP treaty is unusual in that our legislators are wiling signing themselves into irrelevance.

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Practitioners of pseudo philosophies such as National Socialism and Neo-Liberals in their anxiety to give their philosophy a more secure cultural underpinning, drift into turning their philosophy into a religion. Towards the end of the Nazi regime the SS tried to reintroduce the old pagan Gods as a cultural reinforcement of Nazism. Neo-Liberals have already made that change. There is for them a superhuman entity that creates, controls and remakes life and that is the free market. All human societies should be modelled on the free market and Neo-Liberals believe that their role is to remake society into the perfect free market, a behaviour that can be compared to those followers of millennial religions. They thanks to Ayn Rand have a belief in a non-rational world view that is not subject to critical analysis, it is just true.

The purpose of my essay is to explain the nature of the enemy, that people such as myself oppose. If you understand your enemy you are better able to fight it. The philosophy that guides the Rand’s producers is a kind of disturbed masculinity and is a threat to the good society. All the sex in Rand’s novels display this disturbed masculinity, it always violent, suggestive of rape. Not a bad metaphor for the financiers who have raped society through their greed, living a damaged broken social world in their wake.